Longform

Shelter Skelter

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"Everybody's like a team, we're all like a family, and you get to love all these little kids. It's fabulous," she said.

But as soon as she began to talk about the clients, her tone darkened.
"I've been to the Ritz, and I have been to the Waldorf-Astoria. The service these women get, you couldn't buy anywhere," she said. And it annoyed her that the women were frightened to move from the old shelter to the new facility.

"They can't take change. So every little thing traumatizes them," she said.
By April 1994, the women had relocated.
Former employees went before the Maricopa County Task Force Against Domestic Abuse to urge that The Open Door Shelter's membership be revoked. They cited harsh treatment of the clients, including an instance where two women and their children were evicted in the middle of the night. Rounding admits that this occurred, but says the women deserved it.

Some of the shelter's current and former clients began to complain about Rounding. "People tried to stay away as much as they could because they hated to be around her. I myself stayed away as much as I could," recalls a client who refused to work in the shelter's office as a secretary because she felt uncomfortable around Rounding.

She says Rounding badgered her about finding a job and barged into her apartment uninvited.

"This was supposed to be like our home," the woman says. Other shelter staff members left clients alone, the woman adds, but Rounding's intrusions were "constant, like she didn't trust us, she wanted to see what we were doing."
Laswell-Daniels had asked the clients to pay $125 per month if they were able; Rounding required it.

Rounding didn't have much use for the women. Looking back, she says, "The only thing that kept me at Open Door was those kids."

In fact, she liked the children so much, she took one. Rounding admits that a 7-year-old girl from the shelter went home with her on weekends, and once for about two weeks.

She explains, "This was a situation where the mother hated the child. . . . Whenever the mother would get crazy, I would say, 'Let me take her for the weekend and give you some time to calm down and regroup and get yourself together.'

"When I would have the little girl here [at home], I just hugged her the whole weekend and we would watch Beauty and the Beast, I think about 100 times. And I would teach her to go to her mother and hug her mom, because her mom didn't know how to love her."
Terri Hanson, executive director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, believes the home visits were inappropriate. "As a former shelter director, I never, never, never, never would have taken a client's child home. Never," she says.

Rounding says she didn't turn the child over to Child Protective Services because the mother didn't actually hit the child while she was at the shelter. Eventually, Rounding says, she evicted the mother for drug use. When she last heard, mother and daughter were living in a car.

Finally, one board member got curious about operations at The Open Door. Jan Ashford, who had served on the board since the fall of 1994, demanded to see financial reports.

Rounding claims Ashford started asking questions out of retribution, because Rounding had asked someone if Ashford was a lesbian. Rounding insists it was an innocent question. "I don't care if the whole world is full of lesbians. . . . There are lots and lots and lots and lots of gay women that I adore to pieces," she says.

Ashford says she heard the rumor, but it had nothing to do with her problems with Rounding. "I've been on my own, doing my own thing, sleeping with who I wanted to, doing what I wanted to all my life, and I could give a shit what anybody thinks about me or doesn't think about me," she says.

Ashford never liked Rounding. Her first impression: "That she was a kook. Ego, ego, ego."

When Laswell-Daniels left, Ashford says, she agreed to let Rounding take over. But, she says, it was with the understanding that Rounding wouldn't receive compensation. (Laswell-Daniels had received a salary of $500 a week.)

Rounding claims she was promised $20 an hour in merchandise from the thrift store. She says she has a contract signed by Ashford and Jody Trentor, but she can't find it.

"Never, ever, at any time was there ever a discussion of her going to the . . . store and getting stuff for herself," Ashford says. If there is a contract, she adds, "It's forged."
Trentor refuses to comment.
Rounding has an envelope filled with scribbled receipts for clothing and household items she took from the thrift store.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.